Durango takes on the Worlds

Durango has pedaled back onto the podium. Two Durangoans scored top 10 finishes at the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Canberra, Australia, last weekend, with newly local rider Willow Koerber having the ride of her life, taking the bronze in five cross country races. It was United States’ best finish at Worlds since 2001.

Koerber rides for Subaru-Gary Fisher and relocated to Durango early this summer from Asheville, N.C. The move appears to have paid off. Last Saturday, she rode to a third-place finish against the world’s best in the elite women’s cross country contest. The finish represented the U.S.’s first elite cross country appearance on the podium since Alison Dunlap’s storied win in Vail in 2001. The feat was especially impressive given the technical  course.

“I felt amazing all day,” said Koerber, 34. “I was racing to win, and throughout the race, I always believed I could win. The U.S. support out on the course today was awesome. I was inspired to race an inspired race.”

The elite women tackled five laps for a total distance of 32 kilometers, and Koerber lined up side-by-side with fellow Americans Mary McConneloug and Georgia Gould to start the race in 11th, 12th and 13th positions. The U.S. women got off to a great start, but Koerber was the only U.S. rider to survive, and with two laps to go was riding in second place behind race leader Lene Byberg, of Norway. The world’s second-ranked female rider, Irina Kalentieva, of Russia, then stepped on the gas and passed Koerber and Byberg for the win.

Later that day, the U.S. men fought hard to overcome starts 20 or 30 people back in the pack. Durango’s Todd Wells worked his up way up through the field and took eighth place, one of only three top-10s for the U.S. Trapped more than 30 riders back after the first lap, Wells put in one of the fastest laps of the entire race and pushed quickly inside the top 20. He continued to jump from group to group throughout the remainder of the seven-lap, 45-kilometer race. At the front of the elite men’s race, last year’s U23 World Champion Nino Schurter, of Switzerland, outsprinted the legendary Julien Absalon, from France, to take the elite men’s cross country world title.

Durango’s Tad Elliot also put in a strong effort on Friday in the Under-23 men’s cross country event, finishing 36th.

‘Roadless’ exhibit pays a visit to town

As a part of a broad public-awareness effort, artist Nelson Guda is bringing his latest photography exhibit, “Roadless,” to Durango’s Open Shutter Gallery this Saturday. The one-day-only show showcases some of America’s least known national forest treasures – roadless areas that have been the subject of significant public controversy for more than a decade.

Over the past four years, Nelson has traveled tens of thousands of miles, hiking and kayaking into some of the least known national forest lands in the U.S., photographing the vast and diverse set of public lands protected by the Roadless Rule of 2001.

“The protection of the Inventoried Roadless Areas was one of the largest conservation-related actions by the federal government in decades, and yet few people know anything about these important and beautiful places,” explained Guda. “I undertook this project to change that.”

“Roadless” was recently exhibited in the Russell Senate Building in Washington, D.C., and will now travel the country to help motivate people to protect these important lands. Despite attempts by the Bush Administration to remove protections for roadless areas, the 2001 Rule was recently reinstated by federal courts. Meanwhile, the State of Colorado is requesting public comments on the controversial Colorado Rule. The proposal would leave Colorado’s more than 4 million acres of roadless areas with weaker protections than any other state. The exhibit at the Open Shutter Gallery will also include an opportunity for the public to submit oral or written comments on the latest draft of the proposed Colorado Rule.

“We’re very excited to have Nelson here in Durango to showcase some of Colorado’s, and our nation’s finest backcountry forests with his photography,” said Ryan Demmy Bidwell, executive director of Colorado Wild. “We also look forward to giving the public a chance to voice its support for protecting Colorado’s backcountry forests.”

Nelson will present “Roadless” at 6 p.m. on Sept. 12. The Open Shutter Gallery is located at 735 Main Ave., and the free event is being sponsored by Colorado Wild, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Colorado Mountain Club.


Luhmann hits road for Alzheimer’s

For the 10th year in a row, Durango’s Deke Luhmann is putting down serious miles to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease. Luhmann shouldered his backpack today, Sept. 10, and started hiking for Cortez. Fifty miles and two days later, he is scheduled to arrive in Cortez in time to lead the Memory Walk at 10 a.m., Sept. 12. The walk begins at the Parque De Vida in Cortez, and registration is set for 9 a.m.  

Luhmann works as a maintenance supervisor at the Four Corners Health Care Center and sees the ravages of Alzheimer’s on a daily basis. “I get to know the different patients who come in in a minimally progressed state and go to a completely different place a year later,” he said. “It’s sad to meet these great people and learn their histories, to later see them reduced to a childlike state.”

The Memory Walk is a nationwide event that raises money to support local programs and services for persons with Alzheimer’s disease, and their families, friends and caregivers. Proceeds from the event stay in the community and help provide education, public awareness, support services, a library and 24-hour helpline.

For information on Deke or the Memory Walk, call 259-0122.


Atmos Energy seeks gas rate hike

Atmos Energy is looking to bump up your heating bill, even though natural-gas prices are still in freefall. The Colorado Public Utilities Commission is holding public hearings this week on a request by the company to increase its gas distribution rates by $3.93 million annually.

Atmos has five gas rate areas – Northeast, Northwest/Central, Southeast, Southwest and Buena Vista – all with different rate structures. The new proposal would establish a single, statewide rate for all Atmos customers in Colorado. According to the Atmos plan, monthly residential customer bills would increase from 3 to 16 percent, and changes to commercial bills would range from a 12-percent increase to a 6-percent decrease.

The increase would cover costs associated with infrastructure, equipment, labor, materials, meter reading and billing. It would not affect the largest portion of the monthly bill, the natural gas commodity costs, which are passed on to customers on a dollar-for-dollar basis. The commodity costs fell again this week and have hit new seven-year lows.

– Will Sands